Athletics Review: Gary Taylor Invitational

December 20-22 saw both the Senior and Junior boys basketball teams take part in the Oak Bay HS Gary Taylor Invitational.

The tournament, named after the legendary coach, featured stong fields, including teams from as far afield as Saskatchewan.

The undefeated and provincially #8 ranked Junior Boys opened play vs Campbell College from Regina, and, in a polished display, dropped the visitors 53-33. Max Pollen put on an offensive clinic, netting 26 points overall on a variety of three-pointers, mid-range shots and driving layups.

The win moved SMUS into a much anticipated semifinal vs the BC #5 ranked Cowichan and its star forward Joshua Charles. An inspired defensive effort, spearheaded by Jake Wilmott, lifted the Blue Jags to an amazing 29-8 halftime lead. Sharp outside shooting from Liam Catto, Grant Nicholson and Jack Sherrod paced the attack, with Matty McColl, thrust into the starting lineup in the absence of Jason Scully, contributing several key offensive rebounds.

Cowichan, by virtue of its size and weight, made a comeback of sorts after the break, getting as close as 12 points. However, SMUS held firm for what finished a solid 47-32 victory.

The ensuing tournament final, against BC #3 Vancouver College, followed a similar pattern, although the game style was markedly different. Guards Graeme Hyde-Lay, Owen Sudul and David Lee, along with Pollen, did well to handle the Fighting Irish’s pressure defence, while wing Alex Caton attacked the basket with relish.

Up 21-13 at halftime, SMUS struggled to score in the second frame, with College chipping away steadily and, in fact, twice taking one point leads. Then, ahead by two with only eight seconds to play, the Blue Jags failed to guard on the final possession of regulation, with the Irish driving the length of the court after a missed free throw to knot the score at 38.

In overtime, SMUS nudged in front thanks to treys from Pollen and Hyde-Lay. Then Wilmott iced the contest with two foul shots, guaranteeing an exciting 50-46 win.

Although Pollen (All-Star) and Hyde-Lay (MVP) claimed individual awards, the tournament title was a team triumph in every sense of the word. Wilmott was impressive from start to finish, while every other player, in some, way, shape or form, made key contributions.

With the victory, SMUS ran its record to a perfect 15-0. The fine start should also command the attention of the provincial pollsters.

The SMUS Senior boys, the #1-ranked AA team in BC, also looked to maintain their undefeated start to the season. A fourth-quarter flurry, sparked by Georgios Ikonomou, broke open a 46-46 deadlock vs Saskatoon’s Aden Bowman in opening round action. Mark Yorath’s steady outside shooting again paced the attack, while two late hoops by Wayne Lin also proved vital.

The win moved SMUS into the semifinals, this time against Campbell College. Stifling defence – led by Dave Pollen, Matt Rud and Dawit Workie – limited Saskatchewan’s top-ranked team from the outset, with the Blue Jags leading by over 20 points for much of the second half before settling for a 68-49 victory.

Host Oak Bay, who had advanced courtesy of a mini upset against Vancouver College, awaited in the final. In front of a jam-packed East Gym, the two traditional rivals waged a titanic battle. A 12-0 run either side of halftime saw the Bays go up 42-25, but a determined SMUS fightback slowly narrowed the gap. With only a few minutes to play, a Mack Catto three pointer completed the comeback, with the Blue Jags edging in front 53-52.

Alas, that was as good as it got. Seconds later, another SMUS basket was ruled out for an off-the-ball screening foul, while Oak Bay connected on a three-pointer and then hit as needed from the charity stripe to claim a hardfought 60-56 triumph.

Keiler Totz played his best game of the season, notching a SMUS team high 15 points. Yorath and Ikonomou were named tournament All-Stars.

Despite the defeat, which saw SMUS finish pre-Christmas play at 11-1, the team still holds on to the #1 AA ranking in the province.

Next action is January 3, with an opening round tilt in the Cowichan Showcase vs St. Mary’s of Edmonton.

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